History Center Cyclorama

Atlanta Cyclorama

The Atlanta Cyclorama is an immense circular painting depicting a critically important history event from the Civil War, particularly for Georgians, the Battle of Atlanta that occured on July 22, 1864. Painted 22 years after the Battle of Atlanta, the painting depicts a scene from Union victory with the Atlanta skyline, Sherman’s headquarters, and in the distance the battle at Leggett’s Hill.

The artists visited Atlanta in 1885 for field study. They studied and sketched the terrain from a forty-foot tower. Afterward, they returned to their Milwaukee studio to complete the painting. The project was so immense that it required 17 artists working for five months to produce the hand-painted piece that stands 49 feet tall, is longer than a football field, and weighs about 10,000 pounds. This makes the painting one of America’s largest historic treasures and is one of only two cycloramas in the United States, the other being the Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama.

Among the artist that worked on the painting were the famous German painters, Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, Franz Biberstein, and August Lohr.

Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

(March 25, 1845 – August 27, 1921) Friedrich was known for his genre works and paintings depicting Norse mythology. He was born in Leipzig and spent the first forty years of his life in Germany. At the age of fourteen he was a copper and steel engraver’s apprentice and later attended the Leipzig and Weimar Academies in Germany, working as a book illustrator and designer from 1861 to 1866. He was a war correspondent and sketch artist with the Prussian Army in Austria and a field artist in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Because of his reputation he was invited to come to Milwaukee to work on The Battle of Atlanta.

August Lohr

Son of an Austrian soapmaker, left Austria in 1862 to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, in Munich, Germany. He specialized in painting the Alpine scenery of Bavaria, Switzerland and Western Austria. Lohr, together with Franz Biberstein, assisted Munich art professor, Ludwig Braun to create panoramic paintings of early European battle scenes. In 1884, he traveled to New Orleans to supervise the installation of The Battle of Sedan, a German panorama commemorating a battle in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871.

After working on The Battle of Atlanta, In 1887 August Lohr and Frederick Heine purchased the Wells Street studio from the American Panorama Company and formed the Lohr and Heine panorama company. Subsequently they created the panorama Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion. In 1888 Lohr, Heine, Imre Boos and Paul Zabel formed the Milwaukee Panorama Co and produced Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. At least eight panorama paintings were produced at the Wells street studio. After the Spanish American War (1895-1898) Lohr, Heine, Peter, Rohrbeck and Biberstein went to San Francisco in 1898 to paint the panorama Battle of Manila Bay.

Franz Biberstein

Franz was born in St. Niklaus, Solothurn Canton, Switzerland and is classified as a German artist due to his training rather than his place of origin. HIs father was a skilled marble craftsman and carved cemetery monuments and also laid floors in marble for churches. He took his early training from Johann Sutterlin, a Swiss landscape painter, and at age 19 went to Munich where he enrolled in 1869 at the Royal Academy and spent two years. He subsequently studied in Karlsruhe under Pilotti, and Wilhelm vonDiez, a leader in Munich realism.

Although, Biberstein was much more interested in landscape painting than the traditional academic training of sketching. Painting from live models, he spent much time painting mountain scenery. In 1880 Biberstein began working at a German panorama company in Frankfurt. He worked under Ludwig Braun and with August Lohr who took the panorama, The Battle of Sedan, to the 1883 Exposition in New Orleans, where he was recruited for The Battle of Atlanta.

Cyclorama History

The American Panorama Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company that commissioned the painting, the company was the first large-scale company in the United States to create panoramas. It was formed by Chicago businessman William Wehner in 1885. He was inspired by the the German panorama “The Battle of Sedan on September 1, 1870” at the 1884 Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. For instance, Wehner’s idea was to bring experienced panorama painters to the United States from Germany to create panoramas of the Civil War. The painting was one of the first two productions for the company, along with “The Storming of Missionary Ridge.”

The painting was displayed in Minneapolis, Detroit, Minnesota and Indianapolis, Indiana. It was sold to an Indianapolis art exhibit company in 1888, where it was sold to Paul Atkinson of Madison, Georgia in 1890. Atkinson first displayed the painting in Chattanooga, Tennessee and then moved it to Atlanta in February 1892. Ernest Woodruff buys the painting and then immediately resells to George V. Gress and Charles Northen. They move the painting again this time to a structure in Grant Park, but business still falters, in part due to competition with new nickelodeon theaters. Gress attempts to cover his losses by donating the painting to the City of Atlanta on condition that building and painting be repaired in March 1898. Ten years later construction for a new building for the painting begins, with construction finally finished in 1921.


In the 30s Works Progress Administration (WPA) restoration team created a new diorama foreground with 128 plaster figures and repaints portions of the painting. Clark Gable figure added in 1940, after “Gone With the Wind” star visits cyclorama. Their efforts also addressed the modifications that were made in 1892. The modifications conveyed the scene of the painting as a Confederate victory. It was part of the marketing strategy for the post civil war south. By the 1930s the changes were removed to restore the historical accuracy of the piece.

Over the next several decades the painting gradually deteriorated into an extremely poor state. By the 1970s the Atlanta City Council was in heated debates over how to handle the painting. Mayor Maynard Jackson appointed a committee to study the options. They came to the conclusion to start a conservation effort lead by Gustave Berger. The project closed the cyclorama building from 1979-1982. The extensive renovations to building, including new ground level entrance and revolving seating, cost in total about $11 million.

The success of the restoration kept the painting in good condition for the next 30 years. It wasn’t until 2011 that Mayor Kasim Reed formed the Atlanta Cyclorama Task Force. Its purpose was to study conservation issues and economic viability of the painting at its Grant Park facilities. By 2014 Mayor Reed announced the move of The Battle of Atlanta to Atlanta History Center. The move was complete in 2017 to the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building. Finally, the most recent renovations were completed last fall.

Atlanta History Center

This past February, Atlanta History Center opened Cyclorama: The Big Picture, featuring the fully restored painting as the centerpiece. Visitors will now see The Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting as it was originally intended to be viewed. An experience possible thanks to the near century of maintenance and dedication to Atlanta’s storied history .